The customs bureau chief of Kampot province’s Prek Chak checkpoint on Sunday filed a lawsuit against nearly 10 journalists for insulting and illegal interference with the fulfilment of officials’ duties after a video clip showing an argument between officials and the group of journalists came under fire.
The video clip – more than two minutes long – was posted and subsequently shared on social media late in May.
It showed the argument, followed by a journalist pushing an official as he took the mobile phone of another journalist who was filming the transport of goods across the border from Vietnam.
However, after subsequent shares and criticism, on Monday, Yi Thol, 41, representing the Prek Chak bureau of customs and excise under the Kampot Customs and Excise Branch, filed a complaint to the prosecutor of Kampot provincial court against the nearly 10 reporters.
“We are suing them for insulting civil servants and violating individuals’ rights [to privacy] from photographs, as well as illegal interference with the fulfilment of public functions. We demand $100,000 in compensation from those reporters,” Thol said.
He claimed the reporters shot video all over the goods inspection area and checked goods stored in the compound. They alleged that the customs officials were corrupt as they failed to inspect goods, conspired with dealers and imported low-quality goods into Cambodia against the law.
At around noon on Sunday, a customs official went out to get Thol. However, when he arrived at the scene, the journalists had left.
Independent Journalist Club member Chorn Youdeth, who is among the journalists being sued, told The Post on Sunday that the customs chief’s claims were incorrect and that he is not afraid of going to court.
He said the video was cut to a mere two minutes long to show that the journalists were at fault. But the entire video tells another story, he claimed.
“The argument was cut and edited to only highlight the bad parts, which were then posted,” Youdeth said.
“That’s why it caused confusion. I would like to confirm that this ended about 20 minutes after the [recorded] incident.”
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith previously said that according to the law, the authorities can file a complaint about insulting officials who are fulfilling their duties.
Ministry of Information spokesman Phos Sovann said the ministry has no further comment on the issue beyond what the minister said. He said they will wait and see how the court procedure plays out. He expressed hope that justice will be served for both sides.
“[We] don’t know the cause behind the video. So let them take action via court. Maybe there will be an opportunity for the journalists’ side to clarify and reveal any evidence."
“Both parties will have their chance for clarification in court to defend their dignity,” he said.
Club of Cambodian Journalists president Pen Bona said the segment of the video shared publicly showed that the journalists acted in an unprofessional manner, which affects the dignity of journalists in general.
He called on journalists to comply with a code of ethics and to be professional, to avoid going beyond the limit, which will lead to them facing legal action and lawsuits such as in this case.
“In any case, journalists have a duty and boundaries – our duty is to report. We are not the authorities. We are just the ones who take photos of and shoot video of what is news, which we then compile and broadcast."
“Journalists have no right to snatch things or to shout. In this case, it seems we went beyond the framework, which is a problem.”